President Biden’s January “Executive Order On Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government” directs federal agencies to increase their coordination and engagement with community-based organizations. It explicitly recognizes that work with community members reflects a commitment to a “comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved [and] marginalized.”

The question that remains is how to turn this directive into action. What tools can federal agencies use to engage effectively with communities to advance equity and inclusion across policy domains?

The Urban Institute offers a range of rigorous data tools and analysis strategies, including community engaged methods, to promote equity in our research, policy analysis, and technical assistance. To us, community engaged methods means prioritizing the leadership, participation, and active reflection of the people at the heart of the issues we study. This work rests on the understanding that lived experience is valuable expertise. Finding opportunities for lasting change requires a robust understanding of current challenges and opportunities, which can only be fully achieved through ongoing input, collaboration, and investment in the people closest to the issues. Without this approach, our ability to effect change is stymied.

Community engagement can help identify and implement changes that are wanted, needed, and sustainable. Creating the kind of environment that fosters community engagement in research and policy analysis requires four key principles:

  1. Reckon with institutional racism
  2. Learn from others
  3. Redefine expertise and follow the ethos, “Nothing about us without us”
  4. Recognize that engagement can build over time and empowerment is the goal

Read the full article about community engagement by Lauren Farrell, Melanie Langness, and Elsa Falkenburger at Urban Institute.